White went down in history as the first to introduce an antilynching bill, illuminating his colleagues on the sobering fact that 80 percent of the people who were being lynched across America in his time were African Americans. But White's bill stalled in the Senate, and similar House bills met the same fate over the next hundred years. On June 13, 2005, an antilynching bill finally passed the U.S. Senate, with language apologizing for the many previous failures to address the violence that killed thousands in our nation's past. White's century-old quest for contrition from his country was finally realized.
But that's just one part of the George Henry White story. Back in 1900, White began to realize the hopelessness of pursuing a third term. North Carolina's legislature, you see, had ushered through legislation that banned blacks from voting. White saw the writing on the wall and knew his days in the House were numbered. Before leaving, White delivered his final congressional speech, the historic "Defense of the Negro Race," in January of 1901, refuting white-supremacist claims and recounting how racism had unduly influenced our country's legislative process. He promised that blacks "will rise up again some day and come again" and then spoke his parting words "on behalf of an outraged, heartbroken, bruised and bleeding people -- but God-fearing people -- faithful, industrious, loyal people, rising people, full of potential force."
White's moving farewell speech was in many ways a new beginning. For years, White felt that African Americans could thrive if given the chance to build their own communities. Blacks in the South -- while free in theory -- were still being afforded precious few civil rights when he left office. So White hatched the idea of developing an all-black town somewhere in the North.
Not long after his departure from Congress, White and a handful of loyal friends bought 1,700 acres of a former slave plantation on the southern tip of New Jersey -- in Cape May County -- to birth a town that would soon come to bear his name: Whitesboro.
Early settlers with names such as DeVane, Stanford, and Spaulding -- the latter, my ancestors -- came mostly from North Carolina, followed later by families from New Jersey and surrounding states. Following White's lead, the settlers realized that education was the connection to power, prosperity, and respect and were anxious for their children to develop a strong intellectual foundation and a sense of racial and community pride. A school and church sprang up, as did a lumber mill, grocery stores, a hotel, and other businesses. Largely removed from the prejudices, negative labels, and other racial obstacles of the day, Whitesboro grew to forge a distinctive and rich cultural identity. I became a part of this legacy when I was born to Mary and Stedman Graham in Whitesboro in 1951.
Though we were insulated there, there wasn't a person born in Whitesboro who didn't come to realize how the town was perceived once they traveled outside its city limits -- and that there was a specific set of slurs and labels reserved exclusively for people like them, people like me. There was a saying in south Jersey: "Nothing good comes out of Whitesboro."